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Top 7 Overlooked Ric Flair Opponents

August 27, 2021 | Posted by Steve Cook

In case you were wondering, we’re always open to requests here at the Top 7. Easiest way to get my attention with one is via e-mail at [email protected] People don’t really e-mail anymore, so when I get one of those it stands out. Got quite an interesting one recently from our buddy James on a topic near & dear to my heart.

Whenever people talk about the early years of Ric Flair (meaning NWA/WCW before his 91 jump to WWE) everybody always mentions his matches with Funk, Race, Rhodes, and Steamboat. Can you name 7 top matches in that same time period vs anybody other than those 4. I assume the GAB match vs Sting would be on there. I would like for you to keep it as singles matches if possible.

I know the “Ric Flair is the greatest pro wrestler of all time” talking point is a pretty old one as far as Internet talking points go. To the point where many have gone away from the idea and have found other choices, most of which aren’t bad. Even I will go through periods where I wonder if it was Bret Hart or Randy Savage, or somebody I still need to see more of like a Terry Funk or Nick Bockwinkel, and I still consider Steve Austin my favorite wrestler of all time. At the end of the day, I feel comfortable in saying that Ric Flair is the greatest pro wrestler of all time. From his classic matches with a litany of opponents to his tremendous interviews that never failed to elicit a reaction of some sort, Flair was the complete package of what a wrestler should be.

Yes, some of Flair’s opponents get more hype than others. Flair’s 1989 series with Ricky Steamboat followed by Terry Funk is probably the best ten month stretch of in-ring activity by any wrestler. Harley was an important part in establishing Ric as a viable NWA Champion, and Dusty was one of his top-drawing opponents throughout his run. Once we get past them, who was there? A lot of people! Flair went all across the world and wrestled nearly anybody that was anybody during the 1980s. For the purposes of this exercise, I thought it would be best to have seven different wrestlers represented. There are a couple of wrestlers here that could fill out a Top 70 matches with Flair list on their own.

We’re limited to matches that can easily be found via popular streaming services or video sharing sites. I won’t be linking matches here because I want them to stay available, but they’re not hard to find via search function. I tried to find a wide variety of opponents to feature here, and I thought I did pretty well, though there’s still a few that I wish I could have included. If only that ***** match with Butch Reed was on video somewhere. (Their Florida TV match from 1982 is tremendous though.)

7. vs. Magnum T.A. (AWA SuperClash, 9/28/85)

An interesting location & an interesting opponent. This was the first attempt by the AWA to run a cross-promotion show in a major market, as they ran Comiskey Park in Chicago with a card featuring wrestlers from different promotions but mostly AWA guys. Flair had trained under Verne Gagne and spent his earliest years in the AWA, so this was kind of a homecoming for him. Larry Nelson was the solo commentator for this event, and did a pretty good job during this match.

T.A., of course, was everybody’s pick to be the next perennial NWA World Champion during this time period. He looked like a million bucks and was getting built up by matches with Flair, Tully Blanchard & other top heels in Jim Crockett Promotions. This was his first match with Flair on a major show, and was expected to be the first of many. Based off of what we saw here, it could have been a series of fantastic main events that did big business for the NWA. It wasn’t to be.

When you watch a bunch of Flair matches back to back, you definitely notice some trends. Most of Flair’s trademark spots were in this match, and they helped TA look like a million bucks. The popular talking point with fans of the time period is that TA was going to be the world champion and lead the company against the WWF. You can see the potential here, as he looks very credible as a stadium show challenger after only a couple of years in the business. Of course Flair has to cheat after Magnum gets so close to victory with that belly to belly & ref bump.

6. vs. Koko Ware (CWA Wrestling, 11/18/85)

The fine folks of Memphis, Tennessee were lucky to see some of the best wrestling of the time period at the Mid-South Coliseum every Monday night. They got Lance Russell on the call while Jerry “The King” Lawler & his cast of characters provided the action. Most of the top wrestlers of the time period came through the territory at one point, either as young boys paying their dues, or in the case of Flair or Nick Bockwinkel, a traveling champion taking on the best the area had to offer.

On this night, it was the Mid-America Champion, Koko Ware. Ware had been a staple of the territory for the past several years, teaming with the likes of Bobby Eaton & Norvell Austin to win multiple tag team championships & holding that Mid-America title a few times. However, this was his first shot at a world championship, and the first shot at a world championship any Black wrestler had received in Memphis. Ware had the people behind him, and he had Dusty Rhodes, who had no shortage of issues with Flair in November 1985, in his corner as an advisor.

Flair had the size advantage here, and he certainly seemed to not think much of Koko’s chances. The fans were into it though, and Lance Russell was on commentary telling us all about Koko’s accomplishments and how he got there. Ware quickly made Flair realize what he was up against. Memphis didn’t get to see a title change though, thanks to that pesky Bill Dundee and something of a lame finish. Still some great action worth checking out, especially if you’re one of those people that thinks that Koko Ware never had a great match and doesn’t deserve to be in a Hall of Fame.

5. vs. Bobby Eaton (NWA Main Event, 1/7/90)

Flair & Eaton had met on a previous edition of Main Event in a match that drew a high TV rating but got Jim Herd upset because Flair went to a double countout with somebody that Herd saw as a mid-card tag team wrestler he didn’t have much use for. Flair had a lot of time for Eaton, seeing him as one of the top wrestlers under WCW employment. So, Flair decided to have another match with Eaton on Main Event, where this time he’d go over & make Herd happy.

We all know that Bobby Eaton was one-half of a couple of the best tag teams in wrestling history. He didn’t get to show it often, but Bobby was also one of the best singles competitors of his era. His weakness was on the microphone, but that wasn’t too much of a problem when he had Jim Cornette by his side. This match presents an interesting dynamic, as Flair was the babyface going against a heel with a manager that was prone to cheating & a tag team partner willing to interject himself into things. Typically Flair was the one with the numbers advantage, but not here.

Peoria, Illinois was the location, and Lance Russell was on the call. The thing I love about this match is it showcases Flair as a babyface. We know he preferred to work as a heel & spent most of his prime years in that role, but he was a really great babyface when he was in the role. Eaton sold his ass off here and made everything Flair did look brutal. As for the finish Herd wanted where Flair would look stronger, Flair flipped Cornette into the ring while the referee was distracted by Stan Lane, hit him with his own racquet, then hit Eaton with the racquet. A classic case of the bad guys getting a taste of their own medicine, and the fans loved it.

4. vs. Ricky Morton (NWA World Championship Wrestling, 4/12/86)

Saturday nights at 6:05 were the best time of the week for wrestling fans of the 1980s. That’s when World Championship Wrestling would air on WTBS. Taped on Techwood Drive in Atlanta, the show featured the stars of the National Wrestling Alliance wrestling against enhancement talent and doing interviews intended to motivate the audience to attend live events. Flair would typically appear to do interviews & didn’t wrestle too often, when he did it typically led to something important like it did here.

Ricky Morton was one of those guys that even though the fans loved, never really got his just due. The Rock ‘N Roll Express was too important to split up so Morton could get a proper singles run. It was the right call, Morton & Gibson had one of the best runs of any tag team in history, and Ricky was a little small to work on top in the 1980s. He was a great choice to work with Flair, though.

It was an interesting set-up, as Morton & Gibson were set to take on a couple of ham & eggers (one of which being a young Ray Traylor, who would go on to be Big Bubba Rogers not long after this.) when Flair interrupted and said he wanted to wrestle Morton. Morton was ok with this, and we see some crazy things for 1986, like a hurricanrana. Arn Anderson comes down to ringside. Flair gets busted open. Morton gets a visual fall on Flair, and the whole thing gets thrown out when referee Pee Wee Anderson gets bumped and we never see him again. Dusty Rhodes comes out after to cut a promo with the RNR and set up Flair’s schedule for the 1986 Great American Bash tour. Great stuff for TV at the time, easily four snowflakes.

3. vs. Lex Luger (Starrcade 1988, 12/26/88)

It wasn’t too long ago that we covered Flair’s match with Luger at the 1988 Great American Bash for this column. While that match gets panned by some for the finish, it was still a pretty great match that I enjoyed writing about. The finish also served its purpose, in that it motivated people to buy tickets to future shows featuring Flair vs. Luger, as they believed that Luger had to beat Flair at some point. As it turned out, they were wrong. Luger’s journey to becoming NWA World Champion would have to wait a bit longer, as Flair got another win here and would move on to matches with Ricky Steamboat not long after this.

Starrcade 1988 was an interesting night for Flair. Dusty Rhodes was in the final days of this particular booking stint, and originally wanted Luger to go over here. Flair balked at that, so then Rhodes wanted to put Rick Steiner in the match and have him go over. That didn’t work for Ric either, and the new owners of the promotion were more inclined to listen to Ric than to Dusty.

Luger & Flair had plenty of experience working with each other at this point, so Lex knew all of Ric’s big spots and the right way to utilize them. Lex could get away with no-selling chops because of his physique at this point. Flair’s working of Luger’s leg led to the old “knee gives out” spot leading to the win for Flair. One wonders if Luger should have gone over here, but it wouldn’t have resulted in Flair defending the title against Ricky Steamboat & Terry Funk. So things probably worked out for the best. This was a good ****1/2 match that lived up to the Starrcade main event billing.

2. vs. Sting (Clash of the Champions, 3/27/88)

(27 minutes in will get you thoughts from Larry Csonka about this match back in May 2020. I chime in a little bit, but it’s mostly Larry, and of course it’s good.)

The WWF had put a crimp in Jim Crockett Promotions’s plans more than once. The first Survivor Series knocked Starrcade 1987 off of most PPV services. The first Royal Rumble on USA took a dent out of the Bunkhouse Stampede PPV. So it was JCP’s turn to stick it to the WWF, which they did by holding the first Clash of the Champions live on TBS against WrestleMania.

It was a historic event in many ways, including the creation of a star that would appear on TBS & TNT until 2001. Sting had the look & the intensity. He also had Ric Flair for 45 minutes on TBS in the Greensboro Coliseum. JJ Dillon was in a shark cage. There were judges of varying qualifications. 

If you’re reading this, you’ve already seen this match. If you haven’t seen it in a while, give it another look. You’ll see a lot of what Sting would become. That no-selling bit he did on Dynamite when 2point0 put him through a table? Shades of Sting no-selling Flair’s chops and other big moves here. Just like they did in 2021, the 1988 fans went bananas. Sting wasn’t quite as fluid here as he would become, but he still held up his end, and Flair did all he could to make him look like a million bucks. 

As far as matches that make stars for the next decade go, I’m not sure that I’ve seen better. An easy ***** match for me…the only thing I really took issue with was the judging. Not the fact it was ruled a draw (I changed my mind on this re-watch, previously I thought the draw was a cop-out, but on this watch I thought it was an evenly wrestled match & understood the decision.), but the fact that Eddie Haskell was announced as a judge and Gary Juster actually did the judging for him. Pretty silly. I also thought that Patty Mullen judging in favor of Flair was a little too obvious.

1. vs. Barry Windham (Battle of the Belts II, 2/14/86)

The Florida territory fell on hard times after the death of longtime promotor Eddie Graham in January 1985. After Graham’s death, many folks came in to make sure that the territory was taken care of and would stay active, including Dusty Rhodes. I assume Dusty came up with the “Battle of the Belts” name, since he named almost every major event during the 1980s and it sounds like something he’d come up with. You can imagine him saying “Battle of the Belts, baby”, can’t you? The program aired on TV stations carrying Championship Wrestling from Florida. It was very much a predecessor to the NWA’s Clash of the Champions shows that would start in 1988…the first one took place in September 1985 while the second one followed in February 1986. This is more baseless speculation on my part, but I assume the February date looked pretty good after the first show was hampered by a hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast.

In any event, Jim Crockett ended up buying the territory in 1987, and the main result of that was Stan Lane, who was working there at the time, being selected to join the Midnight Express. So that part was good.

Some will tell you that Barry Windham is the greatest wrestler they ever saw. I can’t go that far, the longevity wasn’t there. But from the mid 1980s until the early 1990s when the injuries and mileage started piling up, Windham was as good an in-ring talent as there ever was. He had the knowledge, was always in the right place at the right time and his execution was flawless. You couldn’t ask for much more from a pro wrestler than what you got from Barry Windham.

Especially on nights when he was booked against Ric Flair. Nobody could pull off the Flair formula so smoothly. He had several ***** matches with Ric, the most widely viewed being the Worldwide draw that was on the Ultimate Ric Flair Collection. I’m not sure this one ever made DVD, which is a shame. For one thing, Flair came out to “Easy Lover” instead of his trademark “Also Sprach Zarathustra” theme. You wouldn’t think it’d work, but I thought it was pretty amazing. This also marked the first appearance of the title belt we all know as the Big Gold Belt. Bill Alfonso was the referee, and I found his selling of Flair’s antics interesting in comparison to what we all remember Tommy Young doing. Gordon Solie on the call. They went over forty minutes of pretty much non-stop action before both men got counted out of the ring. People definitely wanted to see more of this match, and it’s a shame Windham didn’t get even more of a run with Flair than he got.

Thanks for reading! Nothing like taking a trip down memory lane with some classic Ric Flair matches against a variety of opponents. Who were your favorite Ric Flair opponents that people tend to overlook?

article topics :

Ric Flair, Steve Cook